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									Diocesan Advisory Committee

Energy / Micro-generation

Types of Micro-generation

(1) Solar Water Heating                              Cost:    £2,000-£4,000

    In this system, solar panels designed to absorb as much heat as
    possible are installed, usually on the roof of a building. These panels
    contain water, which is heated by the sunlight and then can be used
    directly, in washing and bathing, or indirectly, to heat water for the
    usual household purposes.
    Such panels can provide sufficient hot water for the needs of an
    average household for 4-5 months of the year, but may need to be
    drained in winter to prevent frost damage. In most cases, they are
    unsuitable as a source of space heating, due to the lack of sufficient
    sunlight when heat is most required. They also require relatively
    substantial alterations to the fabric of the buildings upon which they
    are installed. This makes them unsuited to use in the context of a
    church, where the disturbance of historic fabric is to be avoided, and
    there is little need for the large quantities of hot water that the system

(2) Photovoltaic Cells                              Cost:    £8,000-£15,000
    Photovoltaic cells use light to generate electricity, which can then be
    used to power lighting, boilers and appliances. This gives them a wider
    range of applications than solar heating panels. They are relatively
    easy to install and maintain, do not require any additional land space,
    and can be sited in urban areas. Although they are less efficient in
    overcast conditions, they do not require direct sunlight to work.
    However, start up costs for this kind of system are significantly higher
    than for other renewable energies. Furthermore, there are obvious
    planning issues regarding their installation – permission is unlikely to
    be granted for the installation of such cells on historic church buildings.
    A further problem for buildings used only intermittently is the storage
    of the energy generated: stand-alone systems not connected to the
    National Grid require a network of batteries to store the electricity.
    Finding space for such a network can be difficult, and the batteries are
    expensive and of finite life. It is also important to note that
    photovoltaic cells are not carbon neutral, due to the amount of energy
    required to manufacture them.
                                                   Diocesan Advisory Committee
                                                   Energy / Micro-generation

(3) Small scale wind power                          Cost:   £3,000-£18,000
     In the UK wind is an abundant, and free, source of power. However,
     the small scale generation of electricity using wind is rarely a viable
     option. Wind energy is very site specific, and the electricity generated
     by it of low voltage. For maximum efficiency, wind turbines need to be
     mounted well above surrounding buildings and other obstacles, which
     makes the granting of planning permission a contentious issue. As with
     off-grid photovoltaic systems, the storage of the electricity generated
     can be difficult, as batteries are expensive and deteriorate over time.

Other methods
Other methods of micro-generation include small scale hydro-power (£5000
upwards, an efficient way of generating high-voltage power) and ground
source heating (£2000 upwards, using heat from under the ground
supplemented by an electrical heat pump). However, as many micro-
generation methods, these systems are highly site specific. Ground source
heating is not particularly efficient, and hydro-power requires an
“abstraction licence” from the Environmental Agency, who will only allow
the diversion of a limited amount of water.

In principle, the DAC is supportive of renewable/sustainable energy.
However, in most cases it makes little financial sense to pursue micro-
generation on a church site. The capital costs of setting up such systems
are high, and the amount of power generated not sufficient enough to make
them cost-effective.
Where churches have a connection to the National Grid, a far better solution
is to switch to green energy providers. These offer green tariffs, which
match the customer’s electricity use to electricity generated from renewable
sources; and green funds, where some of the money from the customer’s
electricity bill is used to support research into, or installation of renewable
energy projects. Steps may also be taken to ensure that individual churches
are making the best possible use of the electricity provided (see DAC
Guidance Note: Energy Efficiency and Church Buildings).
However, where a connection to the National Grid is not present, and the
installation of one would be highly expensive, then micro-generation can
provide a more than satisfactory alternative.

                                                  Diocesan Advisory Committee
                                                  Energy / Micro-generation

Further reading
   The Centre for Alternative Technology (
    Fact sheets on all the major types of micro-generation, online shop
    selling the parts required, consultation on individual projects.
   The Energy Saving Trust (
    Information on different types of renewable energy, and on
    funding/grants for micro-generation equipment.

Mary Saunders, Secretary Diocesan Advisory Committee Tel: (01865) 208 228.

Natalie Merry, Diocesan Advisory Committee Tel: (01865) 208 229. Email:


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